I've got to admit it. I've been in technology product and services marketing for a looooong time. Since faxing AS-400 query software product announcements was considered the height of "hi-tech." So when I run into former colleagues or meet other marketers who are of a similar vintage, they ask me if we can grab coffee to discuss how I made the leap from being a traditional marketer to being a "digital marketer." They want to know how to make that career change themselves, because invariably, they need to job hunt or find new clients. If what I have learned along the way can help others - especially other women in technology market - always happy to share. So let's grab coffee and talk...
An Evolution Not a Career Change
I didn't plan to be a "digital marketer" - I just took the opportunities presented along the way to add to my skill set to be able to leverage the latest marketing channels and tools. When websites became commercially viable tools for supporting my direct mail efforts in the early 90's, I learned enough about how they worked to utilize them as the place to direct my mail audiences. And once I got them to the site, then gave them a reason to provide their information - or pick up the phone (more common then) - to connect with the sales team. Then it became all about email marketing... then banner ads and ppc... then social... then... you get the idea. I was a relatively "early adopter" on testing and incorporating new approaches into my marketing mix, especially for lead generation marketing.
And throughout the process, kept up on databases - especially the flavors now known as "CRM" (Customer or Constituent Relationship Manager), the ones geared for keeping track of the people relevant to your organization and the transactions/ activities around them. Nothing beats a good centralized source of information about those folks (people and organizations) and their history with your organization that allows you to easily analyze, segment and target your communications effectively and cost-effectively. You can't measure what you don't manage - and you do have to measure to be good at this job.
How did I add to my skill sets? Any way I could. When my employer offered me the chance to take a class or attend a seminar (on their dime), I participated, even if I didn't have a clue how I might use the knowledge at the time. When my friends talked about the work they did - especially the technical aspects - I listened, asked questions and jotted down references to books, articles, or other resources that they recommended. Some of the material I tackled myself - for some I only read the reviews, abstracts or synopses of that work. For some of the reading, it was so technical, I had to reference the "Dummies Guide" type of versions. And many times, I was able to either borrow the materials from a library - or put the word out with my close friends (who are way smarter and more technically savvy than I am) if they had a copy I could borrow.
Over the past decade, working in the entrepreneurial space, I've been using no- or low-cost approaches. Researching online to grab reading material and videos to learn from scratch, help clarify or add nuance to topical areas - especially on where/how my audiences are consuming their information (which social media platform, etc.), a specific software (like a Salesforce CRM) or a marketing/advertising platform (Google's Adwords come to mind). And for tech itself, I've tested, trialed or use a live instance of it, leveraging the self-study materials that invariably accompany it. Don't be shy about taking advantage of a free trial for a piece of software - nothing beats getting your hands in it with the handy on-board knowledge base and/or videos that typically accompany them. Just be kind to the poor sales person who are only doing their job when they reach out to try to sell it to you - let them down nicely with a "Appreciate you touching base with me. I'm just trying to learn your great stuff for my own education, so please don't waste your valuable sales time on me."
Need to reconnect with live human beings while doing all this? Check out a regional user group or meetup for the technology or topic area that you find of interest. It is a great way to hear speakers share their knowledge and have conversations with other folks who are usually more than happy to share their ideas. I you are job hunting, you may also hear about organizations who are looking to hire or contract for just this skill set. If there is any cost at all to attend, it is typically minimal (in the case of a meetup, many times it is just the price of coffee or a drink at the restaurant where they are meeting).
What about "formal training" - certification courses and/or graduate-level degrees? I'm not going to bad mouth these. I'm just going to say, "it depends." If you feel more comfortable in a classroom setting or want to do a crash-course/ "bootcamp" type of training on a specific topic - and the provider of the course is reputable and cost not exorbitant - I might consider it. If it is just to have someone to study with, don't waste your money; reach out to another friend in similar situation and suggest you be "study buddies." Even if she lives in another place, you can always study together using Skype, Facetime or just chat on Facebook (and if you don't know how to use one or more of these, please search on Google!)
Digital Marketing is Marketing
You may be thinking at this point that if you haven't already started down this path, it is too late - NOT TRUE! Some things have changed but the core elements are still in demand:
- Understanding your audiences: Who are these people and why they might care about what you are trying to market. The difference lies in where you find them and approaches or platforms for reaching effectively. Depending on the type of sale (B2B or B2C), product/ service being sold and what it does for the audience continues to be what drives people and organizations to buy. You just have to have a clear understanding of them.
- Messages resonating: This is the why part - targeting done well - and you know this stuff. What may feel alien are the constraints - and opportunities - of the delivery mechanisms. Those delivery mechanism choices offer a wider range, as short and sweet as bursts of text on Twitter; collectible as a group of favorites pinned on Pinterest; or, as expansive as a vibrant video channel on YouTube. Find your people where they hang out and provide content in a way they want it. There are just more places to find people than what we did before - but otherwise, it is the same story retold for a new day.
- Your overall professional skills: Understanding how to put together a communications plan and execute it effectively to achieve your organization's goals is still the key. What has changed is the "how" - you'll want to leverage tools that help implement and automate the roll-out of the specific elements of your plan - and the time-frames. Everything just happens quicker now. Digital material can be faster to create (though in some ways, more challenging to do well), out the door and generating deals in the time it used take to get something to the printer and mailshop.
Digital marketing is just today's marketing - utilizing the current tools that happen to be available.
So Where Do You Start?
Begin with the end in mind. Where are you looking to find work? Each industry and organization has specific needs. What kinds of marketing roles are you interested in? Those roles have specific skill requirements. Look at the digital footprint in relation to the organization: site, social, etc., as well as, their job postings (search online) and profiles of current employees (LinkedIn, of course) to see what their skill sets/ jobs include. Pulling this information together can help you assess what they are looking for in a marketing type. Compare against your knowledge base and then just begin to fill in the gaps. You don't have to be perfect at it yet. You do need to know what you don't know and be actively learning.
As Women in Technology, Where Do We End Up?
Wherever we want to be! I'm never going to be a computer programmer or developer - but I don't need to be. I'm accomplished woman in tech who applies her skills to communications (and data - but that's a story for another day). One of the wonderful things I've found is that by staying engaged by learning about the newest marketing tools and techniques, pairing that with my overall business and marketing experience, allows me to add value - and be found valuable - by my colleagues and clients. So keep learning - and enjoy the journey!